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AST80017 Studies in Space Exploration

Course/s with Unit:
A unit of study in the Graduate Certificate of Science (Astronomy), Graduate Diploma of Science (Astronomy) and Master of Science (Astronomy).

Credit Points:
12.5 Credit Points

One semester

Contact Hours:
Equivalent to 60 hours


AST80005 Exploring the Solar System, or equivalent.


Learning and Teaching Structure:
Online delivery mode, contact via newsgroups & email.

Assessable newsgroup contributions (30%), online tests (20%) and project (50%).

This Unit presents the basic principles, issues and scientific goals in space exploration, and traces its history and development with particular reference to crewed versus uncrewed space exploration, spacecraft design, launch and navigation, imaging and remote sensing. Public perception of space science and analysis of the costs, risks and benefits of space exploration are discussed with special reference to ethical and legal implications of topics, such as the use of radioisotope fuel sources, 'space junk', and mining rights in space.

After successfully completing this Unit, students should be able to:

  • understand the basic principles, issues and science goals in space exploration;
  • discuss the history and development of space exploration, especially issues such as crewed versus uncrewed space exploration, spacecraft design, launch and navigation, imaging and remote sensing, and the biomechanics of space flight, in a non-technical way understandable to the wider public;
  • understand the social implications of space science and an analysis of the costs, risks & benefits of space exploration, including the ethical and legal implications of topics such as the use of radioisotope fuel sources, 'space junk' and mining rights in space;
  • research an astronomy topic in depth, using dependable sources of astronomical information on the internet and refereed journal articles.


  • Ground-based space exploration: telescopes, detectors, limitations of ground-based observations.
  • Uncrewed space exploration: orbiting observatories, planetary missions, observing asteroids, comets, the sun, the heliopause and beyond.
  • People in space: crewed versus robotic missions, space stations, colonisation and terraforming.
  • Evolution of human space flight: from fireworks to the V-2 rocket, Sputnik to Gargarin, to the Moon or bust, from Skylab to the Space Station, surviving, living and working in space, space flight in the future.
  • Spacecraft design, launch and navigation: a probe for every purpose, lift-off and boosters, docking and course correction, navigating in space, basic orbital mechanics and calculations, landing on Earth, landing on other solar system bodies.
  • Imaging and remote sensing: instrumentation, telemetry, communication, space observatories, data processing and manipulation.
  • Fuelling interplanetary missions: energy sources and techniques used in past, present and planned space missions, designs and intended uses, relative benefits and risks, risk analysis, ethics.
  • Costs, risks and benefits: scientific, legal and ethical dimensions: the science goals, public perception, legal implications and ethical considerations

Prescribed Textbook & Reading Materials:
For information about the textbook, follow this link.

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